Sulu sultan heirs not asking for PH gov’t help on Sabah: lawyer

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2022 01:03 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2022 08:30 AM

The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu who won an arbitral dispute against Malaysia in February over a 2-centuries-old deal on Sabah are not asking for the Philippine government’s assistance in enforcing the award, their London-based counsel said.

A French court has ordered Malaysia to pay $14.92 billion (or over P800 billion) to eight descendants of Jamal-ul Kiram II, the last Sultan of Sulu who died in 1936.

Malaysia contested the ruling and obtained a stay in the Paris Court of Appeal last July.

The Philippine government is not a party to the commercial arbitration case.

Barrister Paul H. Cohen of the 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square firm, which handles the case, disputed local news reports that the claimants have reached out to the Philippine government for help.

“Despite media reports to the contrary, and precisely because this is a private commercial matter, my clients have not involved the Philippine government for assistance in enforcing the arbitration award,” Cohen said in a statement to ABS-CBN News Tuesday.

Two subsidiaries of Malaysian state-owned Petronas group in Luxembourg were served notice seizures in July as part of the enforcement, according to international news reports.

“My clients are grateful for the arbitration award, but recognise that much remains to be done,” Cohen added.

“Given that the matter is the subject of ongoing legal action in several jurisdictions, they have no further comment at this time.”

Cohen also warned against certain lawyers and spokespeople who he said have been speaking to Philippine media outlets on behalf of the claimants to the ruling.

“These persons are not affiliated with the ongoing proceedings and do not represent my clients,” he said.

Sen. Robin Padilla in a privilege speech on Tuesday called on the Philippine government to aid the claimants in collecting the $14.9 billion award. 

The first-time lawmaker said he was disappointed in the administration’s alleged silence on the issue.

Malacañang has yet to comment directly on the arbitral case.

The French court’s ruling has revived discussions on the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, which is governed by Malaysia.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Tuesday President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not yet voiced his stance on the claim.

The Philippines did not actively pursue the claim in recent years to preserve ties with its ASEAN neighbor.

In 2016, then Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte agreed with then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to set aside the issue amid a bilateral meeting.

Meanwhile, Cohen expressed support to Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra’s earlier statements on the arbitration being a private claim and not yet an issue of sovereignty.

The Office of the Solicitor General has convened a task force to study the implications of the ruling.

The case stemmed from the Malaysian government’s decision in 2013 to stop its lease payments to the Sulu sultan’s heirs after armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III entered Sabah to press on the self-described sultan’s territorial claim. 

Until then, Malaysia had been paying 5,300 Malaysian ringgit to the heirs yearly.

The bloody incursion resulted in nearly 70 deaths, mostly from Kiram’s followers, after Malaysian military forces responded.

Kiram, who died later that year, is not among the claimants named in the award.

The lease traces to an 1878 agreement between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

North Borneo, later called Sabah, became one of the founding territories of Malaysia after British occupation.

The Philippines’ and Sulu heirs’ claim to Sabah comes from the interpretation of the term “pajakan” in the original deal as a lease and not as a cession or grant as Malaysia argued.